Navigating the Veterinary Technician Credential Conversation
With multiple avenues to attaining a veterinary technician credential in the United States, it's time for standardization.
The NAVTA Corner has focused on standardizing veterinary technician credentials in the past (“The Need for a Standard in Veterinary Technician Credentials,” Fall 2018), indicating that the term “veterinary technician” means different things depending on the state in which you work. While some states restrict the use of the title “veterinary technician” to those who have met a formal veterinary technology educational requirement, some do not regulate its use and allow individuals without formal veterinary technology education to be called and/or credentialed as a veterinary technician.
This creates an issue regarding title nomenclature between a credentialed veterinary technician, veterinary assistant, or an individual who has no previous experience or formal education in veterinary nursing and technology. As such, the standardization of credentials throughout the United States has been a focus for advocates.
The conversation regarding the value of a credentialed veterinary technician versus a non-credentialed veterinary technician (or, legally, veterinary assistant in many states) is often heated. There are many credentialed veterinary technicians who benefit from the merit of their education while there are also many seasoned veterinary assistants who excel at their role and developed their skillsets prior to licensing regulations being established in their state. The comparison is not as simple as trying to conclude one member of the team is more valuable than the other.
It is also true that credentialed veterinary technicians in the field currently have different paths through which they obtained their credentials, which adds more depth to the discussion of the current state of our profession. The methods of obtaining credentialing in the U.S. can be sorted into several broad categories:
- Formal education with national examination: These credentialed members have obtained an associate or bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology or veterinary nursing from an AVMA- or CVMA-accredited program and have passed the AAVSB Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). This is considered the current standard.
- Alternative pathway credentialing with national examination: Several states permit the ability for individuals to qualify to take the VTNE by completing a required set of veterinary coursework, required work hours, other degrees related to veterinary medicine, or a combination of factors.
- Formal education with state-instituted examination: There was a time where state veterinary medical boards were instituting their own licensing exam. The AVMA-accredited program graduates at the time would often take the VTNE as well as the state examination, though some opted to take only the state exam. This no longer happens because all states have adopted the VTNE.
- Alternative pathway credentialing with state examination: This was achieved by those who had fulfilled alternative pathway requirements permitted by their state and passed the state-instituted exam, making them credentialed in the specific state. This no longer happens because all states have adopted the VTNE.
- Grandfathered: Historically, at the time licensure was established in a state, those already in the line of work who met certain requirements would obtain the credentials. This pathway was and is only available for a limited time when state regulation is established.
It’s clear that we have different kinds of credentialed veterinary technicians in the field. One may ask, “Isn’t it simpler to have it all be the same? How and why is this the case?” The answer to the first question is likely “Yes.” Having a nationally standardized credentialing system will standardize the baseline of knowledge with which members of the profession enter the field, helping veterinary technicians/veterinary nurses keep up with the demands in the knowledge required.
The answer to the second question is a little more complicated. The differences exist because the profession has spent the last 50 to 60 years being developed, and all professions that become licensed and standardized go through a similar process. As new standards are implemented, those already in the field cannot simply be disqualified from working as a credentialed veterinary technician. Imagine what that would do to the number of people able to work in this capacity, subsequent hardship to veterinary practices, and detriment to patient care that would result.
But new standards are upheld as limited eligibility windows are closed or as new individuals enter the profession. Each of the 50 states goes through this process, which lengthens the time it takes for standardization of our credentials. Alternative pathways exist because legislators can pass in-state regulations that allow veterinary medical boards to grant licenses based on what they deem meets the quality requirement of the licensees. There are various reasons why some states established and keep alternative pathways, but the shortage of veterinary technicians is likely one pressure that makes conversations regarding removal of these paths difficult.
It is often an unproductive debate when members of the profession try to compare and contrast the different credentialing pathways and assign an order of superiority or ability. There are veterinary technicians of all levels of experience, expertise, and competency that come from all categories. There are certainly individuals who have decided to go back to school to obtain a veterinary technology or nursing degree and pass the VTNE to meet current standards. There are those who realize that is not feasible with current family, life, financial, or career situations, but contribute to establishing these new standards and support others in obtaining them. So—like it or not—here we are today with all sorts of individuals as a part of our profession. Do we want to continue to squabble internally through a “who’s better than who” debate, or do we want to band together and make change happen?
We are all aiming to elevate the profession and agree that standardizing the credentials is the way forward, leading to better consistency, recognition, mobility and reciprocity, and title protection. We can and must work together to achieve our goals—for the good of the profession and the patients for whom we care.